Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Democracy - Still the best answer?

The problem with democracy is that the people sometimes vote for a bunch of scoundrels. OK, so that's just my opinion;-) Even with this it's hard to see what would be a better system right now. With democracy we shouldn't have to qualify it with words like "Western" or "Capitalist". It just means that the citizens get to elect their government. Democracy shouldn't depend on an economic system or a location.

(In fact it would be pretty hard to find a pure capitalist economic system now. Even Maggie Thatcher and Ronnie Reagan couldn't put the clock back that far. We now have mainly mixed economies of state and privately owned operations and a timeline through the last 150 years would show the ratio has been moving in the direction of state control in one way or another.)

My thoughts were drawn to the above subject by three events, the elections in Thailand and Pakistan, and the retirement of Fidel Castro in Cuba. In the two elections patronage politics again came to fore. Maybe in Pakistan there was also an anti-military rule vote, but the politicians that have been elected are the same ones that have been involved with corruption in the past. In Thailand Taksin's, (that's the owner of Manchester City Football Club for UK readers), millions have bought about the election of a real rogues gallery. In Cuba an unelected leader hands over to his unelected brother. Any elections that have taken place in Cuba must be shams as no opposition is tolerated.

In Cuba, the lack of legitimacy that a vote would give and the imprisonment of dissenters has taken away from their argument on how the US has isolated them. So even with a good school and health system the people are poor in material possessions and in personal freedoms. Taking Thailand as the democratic example we find a government elected by giving gifts to the mainly peasant farming communities in the north and northeast on a very local level. Now at least when it goes wrong again the citizens have none to blame but themselves and they have the option of removing this government at the next election. (By the way it's hard to disprove the country people are better off after the previous Taksin governments.)

When we look closely it seems most democracies are built on patronage. The more local the government level, the more likely that a politician will get elected on what he promises the community, and this is probably how it should be. The danger in our UK style of parliamentary democracy is that only a minor part of the electorate actually control who forms the next government and these are those in the swing seats. This probably explains why all the political parties are trying to squeeze into the centre ground. The patronage is just for this minority. Ah well, I don't know the answer to this one; maybe it is to go with some form of proportional representation.

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